My daughter turned twenty years old today. Her name is Zoe. Her name means “Life”. Her middle name is Joy. She is a beautiful young woman, inside and out; creative, funny, kind and insightful. She is also bisexual.
Zoe came out to us in her immediate family back on March 12, 2014. I remember the date so well because it was my son’s seventeenth birthday. Zoe chose to share the news of her bisexuality when we were out together for supper in celebration. My wife had been in conversations with Zoe for some time about this so the news didn’t come as a big surprise to her. My son gave instant support to his sister and didn’t seemed fazed at all by the news. Me? I didn’t handle it well at all.
I wasn’t angry but I wasn’t joyful, either. I didn’t rail against her. In fact, I didn’t say much at all, which in some ways may have been worse. I didn’t offer unflinching support or give her a hug or even smile in her direction. Frankly, I was a bit shell-shocked.
Zoe had been rising above anxiety and depression, finding her way back to health in mind, spirit and body. It is an agonizing thing as a parent to watch your child suffer with a mental illness. You want so badly for them to be able to fly but their wings aren’t ready, they’re bruised, they’re frayed. During her darkest days, I have never felt so helpless as her dad; unable to apply a band-aid or just make her laugh to make things better. When your child is in pain the parental instinct to attend to that pain is in overdrive. But I could do very little with that instinct and felt very insufficient.
When she came out as bisexual my first response was one of dread on her behalf: don’t you have enough going against you, I thought? Do you have to add this, too? As her dad, it was another blow, another punch to knock the wind out of me. I didn’t see the admission of her sexuality as a freeing thing on her behalf, I saw it as another burden, another roadblock, another step back.
I reacted poorly at the time but I honestly never saw it coming. Since that time I’ve had opportunity to talk with Zoe and to try to come to grips with her bisexuality. I’ve read a few things and tried to understand things better. However, on this occasion of her twentieth birthday, I’m still in an unsettled state of mind and heart. I’m discovering that this is not easy for me.
I am a Christian and I am the pastor of a Christian church. That in and of itself doesn’t mean I am automatically opposed to anything other than heterosexuality. But the stream of Evangelicalism I find myself in definitely leans more in the direction of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” dynamic when it comes to the LGBT community. The majority of Christians I rub shoulders with, I would say, are not of an accepting mindset when it comes to alternative forms of sexuality. This doesn’t come out of thin air, of course, but out of an understanding of what is taught in the Bible. I have heard Christians in my circles putting homosexuality, for example, in the same category as stealing, murder, greed, lust, envy; that is, as just another sin. Therefore, not something to be celebrated or encouraged but something to repent of, to cast off, to turn from.
For my part, I have never been entirely comfortable with labeling homosexuality and bisexuality as a sin. But I have also never been entirely comfortable with a complete and total acceptance. It has been a struggle for me but never a struggle that I have had to confront personally. My experience was removed and I had the freedom to remain so. All that changed on that day last March. Now the face of LGBT wasn’t someone I met through community theatre or in my neighborhood or in my extended family; now the face of LGBT was the face I first saw emerge from my wife’s womb on October 30, 1994; the face that contained the biggest blue eyes I had ever seen on a baby; the face that I loved so deeply and strongly that it almost hurt: My only daughter’s face.
Zoe was schooled at home for her entire life. Because of that, she formed strong relationships with my wife and I. It is wonderful to see how freely she can talk about so many issues of growing up, becoming an adult, emerging into womanhood, especially with her Mom. But she and I have been close, too. Of my two kids, Zoe is the most like me. We both laugh and smile very easily. We both have extremely soft hearts which can fall in love easily and be broken easily. We both live and let live with people and critters in our lives; we’d both rather be happy than successful; we’d both be lost without animals and/or people to love and be with.
Zoe and I spent countless hours together with the likes of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, A.A. Milne and J.M. Barrie. I read aloud to her almost every night for the better part of a decade. It was a very special time we spent together. I would take on the challenge of creating different voices and work hard to make the story come alive. She would hang on every word and beg and plead for an extra chapter, an extra page, an extra paragraph every night. Snuggled up against me, laughing at the funny bits, quiet and focused during the serious stuff, alert and tense when things got thrilling; it was a father-daughter time that I value perhaps more than anything else.
Life brings opportunity to experience different forms of love. I remember being stunned by the impact of falling in love with my wife. Though I had crushes and thought I loved other girls through my teen years and into college, nothing compared to the feeling of falling head-over-heels; I thought about her all the time, wanted to spend every hour with her, wanted to live my life with her because I couldn’t imagine anyone else I’d rather be with every day of my life. It was exhilarating. But even that experience of romantic love couldn’t prepare me for the feeling of love that came with becoming a Dad. I saw Zoe being born; she came out facing down and when they flipped her over and I saw her face I felt I knew her already and loved her so completely. It was instantaneous. And it was love wrapped around fear and a sense of protectiveness. It was love that reached to a primal place where I would suddenly be glad to give my life in order for her life to go on.
She is so precious to me and our relationship as parent and child is so precious to me. Most certainly, that is the way it should be. I see Zoe as an incredible gift from God. We gave her the name “Life” and Joy not only to mark her life but to remember the Giver of Life and Joy.
There are those who would label my daughter’s bisexuality as a perversion. They would say she has to repent. Let me state this clearly here: They don’t love my daughter; they did not see her being born; they did not curl up next to her and laugh and thrill to book after book; they did not see her grow from wide-eyed-wonder child to wise-young woman. In other words, I don’t give a damn what they think. She is my daughter and it is her life, period.
I see now that part of my struggle with Zoe coming out as bisexual was how it would reflect on me, the conversations I’d be forced to have, the questions I would have to answer. I was making it about me. For this I am very sorry. Indeed, this was the perversion; the perversion of the kind of love and support that I felt so intrinsically at her birth. If there was a sin here, it was mine. I am the one that needs to repent.
Zoe grew to realize and understand that she was attracted to people of both genders, not just in a sexual way but in that strong desire to make an emotional attachment, too. Part of her struggle with depression had to do with trying to come to grips with this fact. She lived with a fear of what this meant and how to deal with it. To those who believe that she chose her bisexuality I say this: Who would willingly choose to put themselves through mental and physical anguish? Who would choose to go down a path that is so fraught with judgement and criticism and prejudice? If you believe she chose this for herself then again I say: You do not know her; you do not love her.
I do love her. I do know her. Yet I remained confused. I confess that I do not understand homosexuality or bisexuality. I have been so hopelessly and completely heterosexual all my life that I can’t comprehend anyone not identifying themselves the same way. I also confess that, as a Christian and a pastor, I struggle with an understanding of LGBT in light of the Bible. From both sides of this heated issue, scriptures have been lobbed in like hand grenades. As someone who takes the Bible very seriously and sees it as my guide to life, I struggle with comprehending it all. There are those who would tell me it is black and white, from both sides of the issue. I am beginning to realize that God is much more in the grey areas of life than the black and white. There isn’t much learning and growing and maturing that happens in the black and white, is there? But in the grey areas can be found doubt and questions and quandaries galore; in other words, the stuff that keeps faith alive and moving, pushing and fighting, battling through the difficult things in life.
I must be willing to go into this battle. My own fear has kept me from engaging. But God gave me Zoe and she is bisexual; as her Dad it is only right and good that I continue to love her as I always have; as her Dad it is only right and good that I continue to seek to understand. This is not the proverbial walk in the park for me. However, maybe that is what is intended: A much more difficult journey that creates much greater Joy and gives so much more abundant Life.
Zoe, I love you so much; much more than I can really put into words. Nothing will change that. I am your Dad now, tomorrow and forever. This path we’re on is ours alone, you and me, and there is no one I would rather have as a traveling companion on this road.